Overreliance on spacers leads to consumer complaints

Does lack of willingness to purchase installation excellence exclude tile setters who craft quality work?


Coverings is not only an opportunity to see firsthand the latest tile and stone styles and trends; it’s an opportunity to learn about the latest technical and installation challenges and the efforts underway to address them. One such discussion at this year’s show last month was the premise that an increasing number of installers are not using measurements and chalk lines to square up and lay out their tile installations. Instead, they are relying on hard spacers, usually made of plastic, to determine the grout joint width and tile positioning, which can result in misaligned tiles.

Contrasting grout and tile make misalignment more obvious than less-contrasting grout and tile.

Contrasting grout and tile make misalignment more obvious than less-contrasting grout and tile.

NTCA requested this topic be included on the agenda for the ANSI ASC A108 Committee meeting held at the show. The discussion was initiated by NTCA Board member and Technical Committee Chairperson James Woelfel, who is active in development of installer and contractor best practices through involvement in and leadership of numerous technical committees. Reliance on spacers has become a critical issue, according to Woelfel, who, in addition to contracting, is engaged in inspection and consulting. He says this problem is the cause of about 80% of the inspections he has performed so far in 2019.

The committee discussed the well-understood and accepted function of the grout joint as the necessary adjustable component of every tile installation that accommodates variations in tile sizing, an inherent characteristic of tile. But hard spacers inhibit that adjustability factor. Accordingly, the less consistently-sized a tile is, the greater the misalignment that will be caused by hard spacers because of the greater need to adjust the grout joint for the tile size differences. 

ANSI A137.1

Rectified tile has less size variation, stipulated by ANSI A137.1, compared to calibrated tile, for which more size variation is allowed.

Conversely, the problem that Woelfel believes is on the rise would be less pronounced with rectified tile. This is because of the very small amount of size variation allowed for rectified tile, per ANSI A137.1, as compared to tile classified as calibrated tile, which is allowed more variation. 

Tile classified as “natural” has very intentional size variation for aesthetic purposes and is allowed the greatest amount, and many tiles have even greater intentional variation and fall outside the tile standard completely. 

But spacers themselves aren’t the enemy. They can be combined, or adjustable varieties can be used, to produce a good end result even when there is significant size variation in the tile. 

Exploring the cause of the issue 

The root cause of the issue is debatable. Perhaps there is a lack of awareness of size variation and how to deal with it, and a lack of qualified installers despite the availability of information and instruction available, especially online. Or, perhaps installers know better, but are working at rates that unquestionably require speed over precision. Is there a lack of willingness by homeowners and GCs to “purchase” installation excellence that excludes those who would take the time and make the effort to make aesthetic adjustments?

Spacers used in combination to give tile with purposeful size variation a consistent overall appearance.

Spacers used in combination to give tile with purposeful size variation a consistent overall appearance.

One can only speculate. Most inspection reports address only whether an installation does or does not meet industry standards. When it does not, the common presumption is that installer error is wholly to blame. But a deeper-diving, less black-and-white assessment might reveal significant culpability of homeowners and GCs choosing not to hire qualified labor. 

It’s an important question for the industry. Perhaps Woelfel’s spacer-related observations are a microcosm. Does an increase in improper spacer use signal worsening undervaluation of craftworkers and trade work? We should try to find out. 

Some installers use compressible materials like rope to space tile.

Some installers use compressible materials like rope to space tile.

If misaligned tile due to spacer use reflects a shrinking willingness to purchase trade excellence, could we trace the lack of qualified labor back to that lack of demand? Could it be considered a labor market correction, i.e., a generalized lowering of output quality that equalizes the supply side with the demand side? 

It may sound controversial but does the opposing theory make sense? Is it possible that the tile-consuming public not only wants  – but is generally willing to purchase excellence – yet contractors and installers are either disinclined or unable to find a way to meet that demand despite the profitability of doing so? If that were true, contractors that do deliver quality work would have an almost unmanageable backlog of work, while subpar contractors would get very little work and be virtually driven out. Unfortunately, it seems the opposite is the case: quality contractors often struggle to get work, and report that the projects they bid on are routinely awarded to contractors that do not provide the same level of installation quality.

Determining precise layouts

Whatever the reason for it, the implications aren’t limited to some misaligned tiles. Even if all the tiles on a job were miraculously the exact same size, with zero adjustability needed, Woelfel’s observations still signal a problem.

The method of using measurements and chalk lines to lay out an installation is the skill that enables the tile installation to be oriented in the best way possible for a given tile and pattern in a given space. Laying out tile is the process of determining the size and placement of cuts (partial tiles) before any tile is set. Especially for larger installations, it’s a decision-making process, which may even involve a home or building owner since the “best layout” is often subjective.

One homeowner might want full tile at a certain threshold or transition to other flooring, regardless of how that arrangement decision impacts the tiles on the opposite side of the room; while another individual would prefer a more centered design. 

Tiling the main aisles of a furniture showroom requires precise layout to ensure tile rows are aligned on center with columns.

Tiling the main aisles of a furniture showroom requires precise layout to ensure tile rows are aligned on center with columns.

Only through professional layout processes can the layout options, including the aesthetic pros and cons of each option, be known and evaluated and an informed decision be made. Similarly, the professional layout process enables installers to adjust a layout to meet specific points and locations as needed in-situ. Installers may have to ever-so-slightly expand or compress a layout in order to “make it work,” imperceptibly, and over the course of multiple rows.

Several ANSI Committee members said they support Woelfel’s thinking that language could be added to ANSI standards and/or the TCNA Handbook relating to the potential for spacers to result in misaligned tiles. As part of the related awareness efforts, the larger implications should be emphasized. The idea is to not only avoid crooked tiles due to spacers, but to ensure that the highest level of craftsmanship is available wherever and whenever needed. This is not accomplished by seeking out qualified installers and companies only for the most critical projects, but rather by helping to sustain them by being their regular partner on the jobs in between. 

Tiling pools?

The pool deck and walls in the spa area were installed with mosaic tiles, and larger tiles in the treatment rooms.

CTIOA field report provides guidelines and best practices to complement industry standards


Industry standards cover the basics of common tile applications, like pools, but contractors who take them on will tell you there’s a lot more to know. That’s not a criticism; it’s just the reality of what can reasonably be expected. An addition or revision to the TCNA Handbook or the ANSI standards often takes several years of behind-the-scenes research, information sharing, and collaboration before it’s proposed. Once it is, the consensus process sometimes dilutes the language or intent, or limits the scope of a proposal. 

TCNA Handbook method P602 is for installation of a mortar bed and tile in a concrete, shotcrete, or CMU pool tank waterproofed with cementitious waterproofing, the performance of which can be enhanced by application of a penetrating colloidal silicate beforehand.

Think about asking your extended family to agree on where to go on vacation together this summer and it’s easy to understand the challenge of getting 50 voters from various segments of the tile industry on the same page. While approved language is solid because of the rigor of the process, there’s often a larger body of information – a mix of facts, opinions, experiences, and preferences – that could also inform contractors’ decisions and processes. 

For pools, spas, and similar submerged installations, a plethora of additional such information was compiled by a Ceramic Tile Institute of America (CTIOA) pool-focused technical group, to provide non-proprietary options and best practices when the substrate is cast-in-place concrete, gunite, Shotcrete, or cinder block. The 17-page report includes sections on evaluating the structure/shell, maintenance, pool water chemistry, and more. 

Especially interesting and relevant to tile contractors is the section on the tile/coping interface, which is categorized in the report under five general design options on pages 2-5, printed here verbatim:

  1. Cantilevered concrete decking,
    image courtesy of CTIOA.

    Cantilevered concrete decking:
    A concrete deck around the pool spanning over the bond beam and waterline tile in a manner allowing the deck to “slip” back and forth as needed. This is usually accomplished with a trowelable membrane, #15 felt paper, 6mil. plastic or equal. A movement joint is then placed between the coping and the top of the pool tile.

  2. Cast in place concrete coping: Concrete coping formed on top of a bond beam, extending over the edge of a pool by 2” to 3” and generally terminates in line with the back of the bond beam. Any concrete sub-base or decking that butts up to the coping and/or pool shell must have an expansion provision between the two.
  3. Pre-Cast Coping, image courtesy of CTIOA.

    Pre-Cast Coping: This coping is generally cast into molds off-site using concrete or pressed clay, allowed to cure and then brought to the site for installation. It’s made in straight pieces, end caps, and varying radiuses that will accommodate different pool shapes.

  4. Quarried Stone Coping: Stone of various species, sizes, shapes and thickness installed onto the top of the bond beam.
  5. Mechanically Fastened Coping: Commonly used in Rim Flow and Slot drain pools, this type of coping is generally attached by fasteners to structural systems spanning over a trough designed for water to flow into. The coping is flush with the decking and the top of the tile, allowing a slot of 1/4” to 1/2” in width for water flow.

    Mechanically Fastened Coping, image courtesy of CTIOA.

The report notes that “the interface of coping and tile as they relate to the bond beam of pools and adjoining decking behind them can account for a significant percentage of pool tile failures when installed improperly… often a result of pressure applied to the pool shell, coping, and /or tile, from pool decking, and adjoining structures.” To avoid tile/coping interface related problems, the report provides “key points to keep in mind when installing coping:” 

To avoid putting pressure on waterline tile, cantilevered decking “must be free to slide over the top of pool bond beams” or “must be raised and bonded mechanically or chemically to the existing bond beam, bringing it up to the same plane as the top of the waterline tile.”

Movement joints should be installed between the tile and the coping.

Place cast-in-place coping “over a bond beam that is on the same plane as the top of the waterline tile,” bond it to the bond beam (unless intended as floating/unbonded), terminate the coping (its back side) where the pool structure terminates, and provide movement accommodation between the back side and any abutting material or structure, such as decking.

Ensure a “positive bond” between pre-cast coping (including quarried stone) and the bond beam, which can be accomplished by a thin-set or mud-set method, both of which are described in the report. 

In addition to the pool/coping interface information, contractors will also find useful details to consider on surface preparation, mortar bed scratch coating and floating, tile installation, and necessary cure time. While much of the report relates to design, decisions, and work that falls outside a tile contractor’s typical scope of work and responsibility, it’s information that can shed light on potential causes of tile issues, should they occur, for example faulty pool start up or maintenance practices that can adversely affect a correctly done tile installation. The combined “how to” and troubleshooting make the CTIOA report on tiling pools an essential reference for contractors that work on pools, in addition to ANSI standards and TCNA Handbook methods. 

The report is available via the site at CTIOA.org.

Critical planning for curbless shower success

This article focuses on design concepts that should be incorporated into plans and specifications for curbless showers in new construction. Other challenges and options come into play for curbless showers when these design requirements have not been included (e.g., remodel projects) and the additional requirements are for a curbless shower to also be “accessible,” or ADA compliant. 


A few factors are fueling growing popularity in the United States of curbless showers, also commonly referred to as “zero entry” showers. An aging population is a main one. Whether an older individual is “aging-in-place” or has opted to relocate to a community or facility, a curbless shower is often more desirable and sometimes even necessary to help people cope with physical changes that they may begin to experience that can make showering difficult or even dangerous. At the same time, thanks to a proliferation of fashion-forward products and systems that facilitate elimination of the shower curb, people of all ages are “going curbless” purely for the sophisticated, streamlined design.

Regardless of the reasons for it, the noticeable shift toward curbless showers is making it increasingly important for building design professionals and tile contractors to know the unique and critical shower design and installation requirements when there will be no curb at the shower entry to function as a dam. Proper planning and high-tech installation materials and shower components are key to containing the water and channeling to a drain, all of which can be applied to the even more challenging goal for the entry into the bathroom to also be transition-free. 

Recessing the subfloor

A shower cannot be totally curbless unless the subfloor where the shower will be constructed is recessed, and the recess is sufficient to accommodate the combined thickness of all the materials below the tile. The size of the shower and placement of the drain(s) are key factors in determining the required recess, as they’ll dictate the required thickness of the floor mud, foam shower base, or other material used to form the sloped base for the tiled shower floor. 

Diagram of a shower base constructed of a topically-waterproofed mortar bed (bonded to concrete) and a bonding-flange drain, recessed to facilitate a curbless shower entry

Diagram of a shower base constructed of a topically-waterproofed mortar bed (bonded to concrete) and a bonding-flange drain, recessed to facilitate a curbless shower entry

The installation method or system that will be used is also key, as they vary in thickness. Some are thinner by design specifically to make it easier to construct a curbless shower. The use of an ANSI A118.10-compliant, thin, load-bearing waterproofing membrane directly below the shower floor tile – instead of a traditional shower pan membrane underneath a mortar bed – results in a lower profile system without sacrificing functionality. Bonding flange drains and linear drains also offer reduced thickness of the shower base, in many cases requiring no more than 3/4” (mortar bed or preformed pan) at the thickest point, whereas a traditional clamping ring style drain, such as those shown in many TCNA Handbook methods, (e.g. Method B415) requires a 1-1/4” to 2” mortar bed.

A single sloping plane is possible with a linear drain

A single sloping plane is possible with a linear drain, which gives a streamlined appearance and allows large tiles to be used; just be sure the tile layout on the walls will facilitate the non-level floor perimeter.

Thus, for the tile contractor to be able to deliver a curbless shower, the specifics of how the shower will be constructed must be determined at the outset so their dimensions can be incorporated into the building’s rough-in plans. This is much earlier than is often the case, which highlights the importance of advance planning when it comes to curbless showers.

Another piece of the puzzle is drain location. In many cases linear drains and bonding-flange drains can be located in various places within a shower compartment – at any of the shower walls, at the shower entrance, or mid-floor. Perhaps more important than its impact on the required floor recess, ideal drain location is critical to how the shower water will flow and drain. Effective draining – versus aesthetic preference – should drive the placement decision. In many cases placement away from the shower entry is optimal. 

During the design phase, consideration should also be given to defining the shower floor space. In other words, what are the extents of the shower floor? In some cases, in larger showers or open-design showers where the shower floor freely flows into the restroom areas, a secondary drain may be required to collect any water that may flow out of the shower compartment or overrun the main shower drain due to the momentum of the water. Also, showers with multiple heads/jets may require additional drains to handle the water flow.

Slope of the shower floor

The International Plumbing Code (IPC) requires a slope of 1/4” per foot (IPC 417.5.2 Shower Lining) for shower floors, which is echoed in the TCNA Handbook shower receptor methods. Recessing the subfloor or substrate under a shower allows the finished floor to start sloping from the height of the floor outside the shower, rather than building up a shower base to provide slope to drain, as required when there is no recess in which to countersink the shower base, which therefore requires a curb. 

Sometimes less slope is specified in a curbless shower, such as 1/8” per foot. In some jurisdictions, a slope of 3/16” per foot or 1/8” per foot could be allowed for a roll-in shower designed to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). However, it is important to note that reducing slope greatly reduces the draining efficiency of the shower. There just isn’t enough slope to properly evacuate the water, which can result in standing water at any given time, a different possible safety concern. In addition to considering these tradeoffs, design professionals should also consult local building and plumbing codes and officials on a regular basis to ensure baseline compliance with the most current requirements, including the latest ADA parameters when ADA compliance is also intended. 

Although tile contractors should in theory be able to follow specifications as written, when less than 1/4” per foot slope is specified, it may be worth reconfirming the desired and/or necessary slope with the general contractor and/or project design professional before proceeding. The same could be said for the specified slopes and drains, and the resulting floor recess needed to accommodate them. If a reconfiguration is necessary, a proactive approach might avoid finger pointing and delayed payment later on, or help to build relationships that will lead to more work. 

But regardless of how or when potential design issues are addressed – some contractors prefer to wait until they’ve been awarded a job – what’s not optional is a good understanding of the critical design elements for curbless showers. Even when it’s a designer’s responsibility to design a shower that’s curbless and drains effectively, tile contractors will no doubt discover – and therefore have to address – various design and rough-in execution flaws as part of the process.

Wood frame construction recommendations for tile and stone floors

Building design guidelines and additional measures to accommodate sustained concentrated loads 

This article was derived from an article by Dr. Frank Woeste, P.E., Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech and a wood construction consultant, and Peter Nielsen, cofounder of MGNT Products Group, LLC, a consulting and product design company for the tile and construction industries. This version of the information was generated by NTCA to provide a brief overview of their wood framing recommendations for hard surface flooring.


Two kinds of designers are involved in construction: design professionals responsible for performance and structural integrity and interior-focused designers responsible for the final appearance. Although they have very different roles, some of their decisions should be coordinated. For example, they should join forces when hard surface flooring – like tile and stone – is selected since these materials are on the heavier end of the spectrum, requiring more robust structures to support their weight. Hard surface floors are also more susceptible to problems than flexible floor types are when the weight of a concentrated load, like a dreamy kitchen island, is not adequately designed for. This article provides guidelines to design professionals for specifying adequately supportive structures for tile and stone floors in new construction wood frame buildings.

Designing for dead load

Sagging book shelves illustrate the concept of creep deflection; over time, shelves that are not strong enough for the weight they are loaded up with will bow.

A key factor is “dead load,” which is the cumulative weight of everything that a structure needs to support continually, including the flooring. When the actual dead load in a wood frame structure exceeds what was designed for, it over stresses the wood framing and over time can result in excessive “creep deflection,” a permanent bowing of the structure. An easy way to envision creep deflection is to picture an overloaded bookcase. The shelves will bow over time – and permanently – under the weight of the books.

Similarly, a home or building can be overloaded, for example by being structurally designed for luxury vinyl planks (LVP) flooring rather than the interior designer’s vision for ceramic planks. Some creep deflection is inherent and expected in wood frame construction, and not an issue for tile and stone floors. Overloading is what causes excessive creep deflection, possibly beyond what a tile or stone floor can withstand. Potential for and severity of a tile flooring issue because of excessive creep is tied to the amount of overloading and passage of time.

Weighty design features, like large kitchen islands with solid surface tops, and heavier-than-usual appliances, such as a Sub-Zero refrigerator, are examples of concentrated dead loads that additionally need to be designed for, structurally. This is true regardless of flooring type, but something to be especially aware of when the floor will be ceramic or stone tile. That’s because rigid, hard surface flooring materials are where concentrated overloading of a wood frame structure might become visually apparent, in the form of cracks, due to their inability to bend.

Baseline weights to factor into dead load 

To facilitate adequate structural design for tile and stone floors, the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation provides the approximate per square foot weight of tile, stone, and installation materials, individually by material type (i.e., 1/2” thick cement board weighs 4 lbs. per square foot) as well as cumulatively by installation method (i.e., Method F144 weighs 8 or 10 lbs. per square foot, depending on whether 1/4” or 1/2” cement board is used). Using this information, located in Appendix B, building designers can arrive at accurate dead loads. 

Appendix B of the TCNA Handbook is a compilation of material and system weights.

Method F141 Stone weighs 23 pounds/square foot with a 1-1/4” mortar bed.

Accurate dead load is important because dead load influences the maximum span (length) of wood joist that can be used, per International Residential Code (IRC) guidelines. These guidelines provide maximum allowable joist span separately for an assumed dead load of 10 psf and 20 psf. Remember though, dead load is not just the flooring. So, while the separate span tables may be generally used according to flooring type (e.g., follow guidelines for 10 psf dead load when lighter floorings like carpet will be installed, and guidelines for 20 psf dead load for tile and stone), one should not assume they apply in all situations. Additional dead load could be present from other elements, causing total dead load to exceed 10 psf where a lighter floor finish will be installed or exceeding 20 psf where ceramic or stone tile will be installed. Not to mention, some tile and stone installation methods on their own exceed 20 psf, which demonstrates that IRC span tables aren’t always enough.

Research indicates that an even more important consideration for tile and stone floors in wood frame construction is the thickness/stiffness of the subfloor, although not necessarily because of system-creep-inducing overload. Rather, the subfloor sheathing could simply deflect (bend) between joists under an applied load more than a hard surface tile can withstand, even if the sheathing is otherwise adequate within the full design scheme to support the expected loads. 

In Method F144, the wood subfloor can be 19/32” thick or 23/32” thick and relates to whether the installation methods falls under the residential or light commercial service rating.

This industry-specific consideration, not addressed in IRC, is addressed in the TCNA Handbook through more stringent deflection limits. Specifically, the TCNA Handbook limits deflection under concentrated loads, whereas IRC deflection limits are for uniform loads. What this means for building designers is that the minimum subfloor thickness/stiffness required by code for strength may not be enough. A thicker/stiffer subfloor may be needed to limit subfloor bending between joists. More robust framing may also be needed, again to go beyond the strength consideration to further limit bending related to concentrated loads. The heavier and more concentrated the load, the greater the need to beef up the floor framing to limit bending.

An example: the large kitchen island

As an example, consider the large kitchen island scenario. With 30mm (3cm) thick stone tops and normal contents being stored inside, this popular kitchen feature could present a 40 psf dead load, calculated by using the square footage of the island’s footprint as the area. In service, the framing and subflooring directly below and around the island is subjected to a substantial sustained load that produces creep deflection, but only in that area. As such, for hard surface floors, building design should incorporate more stringent framing requirements in areas where concentrated dead loads are expected, with kitchen islands a particular focus because of their widespread use. 

Because this kitchen island is oriented parallel with the wood joists, its weight is on fewer framing members.

It’s not practical, though, to expect a customized calculation and specification for every kitchen island. A more practical approach would be to follow general guidelines that are widely effective and easily incorporated into documents and processes. 

Since large kitchen islands are frequently paired with ceramic or stone flooring, it makes sense to have the following structural design parameters specifically attached to them: 

  • For solid-sawn and I-joists: joist spacing beneath kitchen islands shall be reduced by one-half and indicated on the joist framing plan.
  • For floor trusses: floor trusses beneath kitchen islands shall be doubled. 

Designing for hard surfaces checklist

These suggestions are in addition to the following recommendations, some of which were provided earlier in the article but are restated here in the interest of supplying a complete “designing for hard surfaces checklist”: 

  • Prepare construction documents that contain:

º the TCNA Handbook installation method

º the weight of the installation method (from TCNA Handbook Appendix B)

º the footprint of the kitchen island (and other heavy equipment)

º a specification that joists shall be doubled, or spacing reduced by half, beneath an island

  • Require floor system designs based on a “total load” that includes the actual weight of the installation method
  • Upgrade subfloor thickness (above what is given in the TCNA Handbook method being used) 
  • Require strongback bracing for floor trusses to minimize differential deflection of joists
  • Offer customers (homebuyers, owners) floor framing and subfloor “upgrades” for added protection against the likelihood of tile and grout cracks and annoying floor vibrations

The generalized “overbuilding” that some of these recommendations suggest may not seem an easy ask in an industry that prizes value engineering. But they do have enormous value – not in material cost savings – but from having effective boilerplate solutions to a common design challenge that are also practical with respect to implementation. Tile and stone professionals would be well served if these guidelines were better known and understood by building designers. TileLetter readers are encouraged to help make that happen by circulating and posting the information freely.

Planning for safety and style in commercial and residential showers

Curbless shower

Did you know January is National Bath Safety Month? While the origin of this month-long observation is unknown, the reason for it is clear: the bathroom is where most injuries happen within a dwelling, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA). And of course, people can get injured in any other bathroom they use; for example, in restrooms at work, in stores and malls, at venues for attending shows or events – the list goes on. Since so much of the tile industry’s work is done in some type of bathroom, TileLetter polled a group of NTCA members and technical staff on bathroom-safety-related observations and experience.

Consider DCOF

The BOT 3000 is a device for measuring the dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF) of ceramic tile and many other hard surface floorings.

As you no doubt already guessed, all who were asked agreed that a main consideration is the dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF) for any tile being used on a bathroom floor, because DCOF is essentially a measurement of a tile’s slip resistance. 

“We recommend tiles with the proper DCOF ratings and occasionally add an anti-slip treatment,” said Nyle Wadford of Neuse Tile in Youngsville, N.C., adding that his company will recommend a different selection if they think there may be a safety issue. Buck Collins, owner of Collins Tile in Ashburn, Va., concurred, saying, “We pay particular attention to this information and if we have any concerns they are discussed with the homeowner or GC before proceeding.” 

The ANSI A326.3 standard provides the test method for measuring DCOF of hard surface flooring materials and guidance on specifying hard surfaces relative to slip resistance. Tile Council’s technical bulletin on DCOF provides additional information in more reader-friendly language. Both publications and several other helpful DCOF resources are available for free download at https://www.tcnatile.com/industry-issues/dcof-acutest.html or https://bit.ly/2rYj861

Safety on the rails

The focus group was also asked about handrails and grab bars. Commercially focused tile companies are not likely to install grab bars, probably because other trades or the manufacturer will do that work, said NTCA Technical Trainer Robb Roderick. But residentially oriented companies seem to be installing them more and more, “especially in basement bathrooms that often serve as guest baths for clients with aging parents,” said Gianna Vallefuoco of Vallefuoco Contractors in Rockville Md. Collins agreed, saying his company puts them into about half the showers they build. Typically, he said, they install blocking (2” x 8” or 2” x 10”) between the wall studs where the grab bars will be installed after tiling, to ensure they can be firmly anchored. 

It’s becoming more common for blocking to be included at the framing stage, regardless of whether grab bars will be installed right away. “It’s easier to have these measures addressed as the bathroom is being created than after the fact,” said Vallefuoco. “We leave the client with a drawing of where they are located,” said Collins, “in the event they want to install them at a later date.”

Long gone are yesteryear’s grab bars. Safety accessories for the bathroom are now attractive and available in every style and finish, and price point.

Robert Showers, of Avalon Flooring in Cherry Hill, N.J., noted that some grab bars don’t require blocking nor drilling through tile. However, those option do have to be part of the original plan, as they are installed when the backer board is being installed. 

At the same time, a residential contractor may opt to avoid work related to handrails. Neuse Tile is often asked to put them in but rarely does, “because of the liability associated with a failure of the fastening methods,” said Wadford. “As a result of that and the variety of differing apparatuses that can be used, we leave that work to the expertise of others.”

Curbless showers: zero entry or barrier free?

A curbless shower facilitates easier shower entry and exit. This beauty was installed by Collins Tile.

Another growing trend is for showers to be curbless, also commonly referred to as zero entry. Curbless showers “go” with the minimalist style that we see across the industry, said Vallefuoco, while giving those with mobility issues easier entry into the shower. It’s important to note though, that a curbless shower is not necessarily “barrier-free,” a term often used to describe showers that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires a lengthy list of additional requirements (for example, enough room for a wheelchair to turn around) in order for a shower or bathroom to be considered ADA compliant.

The group noted a litany of such additional details of bathroom and shower design and installation that could relate to safety: making sure shower floor tile is small enough to follow the three-dimensional conical shape of a floor that is sloped to a round drain, the angle of a curb when a curb is used, the height of a niche, shelf, or seat, etc.  

For instance, John Cox of Cox Tile in San Antonio, Texas, said that “We may position a seat or half wall to make sure there is some stability in the layout.” 

In addition, he points out the benefits of linear drains as a safety consideration. “Water flow maintenance can actually be better with linear drains,” he mentioned. “It depends on the grate (cover) and water flow. Some of them are more conducive to evacuating water. You have options on placement of locations for the drains. Front, back, to the sides are now viable options.”

And he pointed out that linear drains can pair better with popular larger-format tile. “With your traditional round drains, you have to use smaller tiles to make the slope to drain work,” he said. “You cannot use a larger-format tile due to the slope and not being able to bend the tile.”

NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein added that in addition to these considerations being safety features, they represent opportunity for tile contractors and installers as “upsell” opportunities.

Good design encouraged from the planning stages

To develop effective slip/fall prevention recommendations for clients, insurance and risk management firm CNA studied the causes of slip/fall incidents. They found that, to reduce slip/fall incidents in bathrooms and showers, cleaning and maintenance practices often need to be improved to significantly reduce or eliminate soap residue from being left behind, because soap residue lowers a floor’s DCOF, meaning it makes a floor more slippery. Download the full report at tcnatile.com/images/pdfs/CNA_Risk_Control_Slip_and_Fall_Report_Final.pdf

Those who want to know more about bathroom safety, including potential business opportunity, might be interested in NKBA’s Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP) program, developed in partnership with the Living In Place Institute (https://nkba.org/clipp). The program is “devoted to accessibility, comfort and safety in every home” and addresses topics such as statistics and trends for the living in place market; medical, pharmaceutical and cognitive issues (for all ages); designs, products and installation; how to do a home safety assessment, and other business opportunities related to safety.

“There are lots of tiny details that often get overlooked in the planning stages,” said Vallefuoco. “No client wants to have to step or reach in awkward positions to access shower products.” Her sentiment mirrors the NKBA’s: “Part of the battle with convincing clients to consider the principles of living in place when starting a remodeling project is that no one wants to be thought of as ‘old’ or ‘incapable.’ Designers must tread a delicate line in explaining that ‘living in place’ is really just ‘good design’ that can accommodate anyone’s needs, now or in the future.”

CERSAIE 2018: Tiling Town attracts more than 1K visitors

TEC logoAt CERSAIE 2018, the seventh edition of Tiling Town event attracted more than 1,000 visitors (+15%), taking advantage of the new CERSAIE layout that brought together exhibitors of installation equipment and materials in halls 31 and 31A. These logistics facilitated meetings between visitors and tile installers and master tile layers from Assoposa – the Italian association dedicated to ceramic tile installation. Tiling Town offered daily showcases of installation work with large-size panels and slabs. 

There were three separate initiatives devoted to slab installation:

  • Promotion of Assoposa training courses for slab layers. Slab installation is a completely new kind of work that requires specialist skills. With this in mind, Assoposa has organized a specific training course designed to transform tile layers into professionals capable of installing large slabs in compliance with standards in all operating conditions. The four training modules presented at CERSAIE were held at the Scuola Edile (building school) in Reggio Emilia this year on November 29 and 30 and December 1. 2019 dates are:
  • ° January 10, 11, 12, 31 
  • ° February 1, and 2 
  • ° March 14, 15 and 16.
  • Participation is free and reserved for Assoposa members with the professional tile layer or master tile layer credentials. 
  • Seminars for architects and designers that qualify for professional training credits in Italy, organized to encourage design projects using these innovative products and to promote the use of large slabs. All problems relating to the new products can be resolved by qualified specialist retailers and installers.
  • A proposal for managing logistics and transport of these new products by drawing up a series of non-obligatory “Good Practices” for the logistics and transport of slabs in coordination with manufacturers, transporters and retailers. 
A new layout at Cersaie facilitated meetings between visitors and tile installers and master tile layers from Assoposa.

A new layout at Cersaie in halls 31 and 31A facilitated meetings between visitors and tile installers and master tile layers from Assoposa – the Italian association dedicated to ceramic tile installation.

Tiling Town 2018 also hosted installations devoted to special cutting and the “continuous vein” effect. Replicating the successful “RIGHT/WRONG” initiative of previous years, these showcases clearly demonstrated how a carefully designed installation project based on the tile’s vein pattern produces far superior results to a random layout. The exceptional aesthetic results achieved in the floor tile waterjet cutting demonstration further underscored the importance of proper installation.

Software for online compilation of the Traceability Sheet in accordance with Italian standard UNI 11493 was also presented. This sheet must be issued to the client by the contractor or sub-contractor and must provide an orderly and technically correct description of the key aspects of the operations performed, the materials used and the professionals involved. The Traceability Sheet serves as a kind of identikit of a ceramic tile installation, a document that sets out the key characteristics of a floor installation and validates the work of Assoposa member tile layers.

Eight new professional certification courses have been scheduled for the qualifications of tile layer and master tile layer and will be held in the period from October 2018 to March 2019 in the Italian cities of Bergamo, Cuneo, Padua, Reggio Emilia, Avellino, Pisa, Brindisi and Frosinone.

Tiling Town offered daily showcases of installation work with large-size panels and slabs.

Tiling Town offered daily showcases of installation work with large-size panels and slabs.

EITA (European Innovative Tile Academy), an advanced training school for instructors, was presented with the aim of promoting training courses for slab layers organized in accordance with a shared European standard at various national levels.

“What five years ago seemed like a dream – the creation of a highly respected association of professional ceramic tile layers and dealers with hundreds of members and a continuous, high-quality program of activities – has now become reality,” commented Paolo Colombo, Chairman of Assoposa.

There were three separate initiatives devoted to slab installation

There were three separate initiatives devoted to slab installation.

Cersaie 2018 and the activities of Tiling Town also saw a surge in applications for Assoposa membership (30% more than at Cersaie 2017). Following an intense promotional campaign, visitors showed a keen interest in the initiatives organized by Assoposa, including the presentation of a highly popular illustrated tile installation manual entitled “Assoposa per noi” which was distributed free of charge at the show. 

Apprentice competition tests hands-on prowess and book learning

From mud to mortar, BAC/IMI contest highlights benefits of training


TEC logoEvery three years, the top tile-layer apprentices in the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) head to Bowie, Md., tools in tow, to compete for a top score in a rigorous test of hands-on skills and technical knowledge. Organized in conjunction with the International Masonry Training and Education Foundation (IMTEF), which provides training for BAC members and is funded through the International Masonry Institute (IMI), the triennial event celebrates the trowel trades and the trade workers committed to learning them through BAC’s apprenticeship program. 

A schematic showing what apprentices’ finished test modules should look like.

California’s David Perez earned the highest score, but, said IMTEF’s Lupe Ortiz, “They’re all winners.” He explained that the 13 apprentices – who spent a day being closely scrutinized by top BAC/IMI tile instructors and craftworkers from various parts of the country – had won the similar competitions held at the local and regional levels to advance to this final round. Ortiz was one of the contest judges, a role befitting someone who has trained scores of apprentices in California and is known by many in the industry as a stickler for strict adherence to installation standards and quality. He is now a regional director of apprenticeship and training for IMTEF.

The hands-on component of the competition included a demandingly broad scope of skills tests, all of which had to be done within a strictly enforced time limit. Mudding walls – arguably one of the most difficult and increasingly lesser-known processes related to installing tile – was reintroduced into the competition program this year, noted Gavin Collier, an apprentice coordinator and contest judge. (He also played helper for the day, loading apprentices’ mortar stands with wall mud and cleaning buckets and tools.)  

An apprentice in the final stages of the mortar bed wall portion of the hands-on test.

Including wall mud in the curriculum helps keep the ability to produce mortar bed walls from becoming a lost art. An ever-expanding array of backer boards and thinsets has gradually replaced much of the mortar bed work performed by tile setters, especially on walls due to fewer reasons mortar bed walls might be needed. Instead, custom-sized and shaped showers and multi-drain areas like commercial kitchens have kept mortar bed work on floors more necessary. Accordingly, mortar bed work is more widely practiced by residential and commercial installers alike.  

To prove their wall mud prowess, the contenders had to produce flat, plumb-faced walls with plumb and level perimeter edges, sized to the correct height and width for the tile installed over it. They also had to stay within industry standards for minimum and maximum thickness. In addition to the two adjacent walls being closely inspected for these considerations, evaluators checked the corner where they intersected for squareness. 

A view of the apprentice contestants working on their modules.

After putting up their wall muds, the apprentice contestants screeded and floated a mortar bed floor, installed tile with a challenging layout and trim pieces, and finished their test modules with grout and caulk. According to Ortiz and Collier, a total of about 40 installation details were carefully inspected and scored by the four journeyman evaluators, who quite obviously took their role seriously. Over the course of the day they compared notes constantly, and quietly but passionately debated their observations to arrive at their final evaluation scores. The individual aspects of the test module that they scored were the critical requirements and workmanship standards aimed at avoiding installation failures and aesthetic issues. Combing the mortar correctly to achieve proper mortar coverage is imperative, said Ortiz. “In our trade you have to pay attention to the small details,” he added.

Evaluators confer and judge the work of the apprentice contestants.

The following day the apprentices took a closed-book written test focused on tile industry ANSI standards and the TCNA Handbook of Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation. Combined scores were tallied, and Perez was announced champion for the tile division of the contest. 

Ortiz and Collier have been providing structured education and skills training to tile setter apprentices for several decades and are deeply committed to continued program developments and improvement. At the same time, they acknowledge that the top-performing apprentices’ high skill level is not only a result of the foundational skills built in those classrooms. The contractors they work for and installers they work under day-to-day are a significant influence on apprentices’ development, they said. 

“What they expect and how they have them do things in the field has to support what IMI trainers are showing them,” said Collier. Apprentices are on the job so much more than they are under an instructor’s tutelage, he added. When it comes to Perez and the other 12 apprentices who competed, it’s clear that this is happening.

California’s David Perez was the champion for the tile division of the contest.

StonePeak Ceramics celebrates expansion

StonePeak Ceramics celebrates $70 million expansion to Crossville, Tenn. plant

New Continua production line aims to produce 1,000 5´ x 10´ gauged porcelain panels a day


Crossville, Tenn. – On September 12, a group of customers, press, state and local dignitaries, and company management assembled at the StonePeak Ceramics plant here to celebrate the expansion of the first U.S.-based plant to produce 5’ x 10’ gauged porcelain panels.

The $70 million expansion adds 160 workers to the facility, which now measures 1 million square feet. Federica Minozzi, CEO of the Iris Ceramica Group, parent company of StonePeak, SapienStone, FMG, Ariostea, Eiffelgres and Fiandre USA, spoke during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, stating that not only is this plant the first in the U.S. to produce gauged porcelain 5’ x 10’ panels, but it’s the first in the world to also offer the capacity to cut those panels to smaller sizes such as 12” x 12”. Panel thicknesses range from 6mm to 2cm.

“We didn’t even do this investment in Italy,” she said. “We decided to do it in Crossville.” 

Clays are sourced from the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee to manufacture the panels, said Fiandre USA’s director of sales and marketing Eugenio Megna, who led visitors on a tour through the plant. 

Iris Ceramics Group CEO Federica Minozzi with StonePeak leadership and state and local dignitaries, cut the ribbon on the Crossville Tennessee’s factory expansion. It is the first in the world that produces 60˝ x 120˝ gauged porcelain tile panels and also cut sizes down to 12˝ x 12˝. This $70 million expansion also adds 160 workers and at peak will produce 1,000 panels a day.

Fiandre USA’s Eugenio Megna led tours through the new plant expansion. This A-frame filled with porcelain panels is ready for shipping, and holds 25 5´ x 10´ panels on each side.

The company uses the Continua production process and Sacmi machinery on the line, and utilizes sophisticated inkjet graphics to achieve looks like Calacatta or other aesthetics that are nearly indistinguishable from natural stone, as well as other in-demand looks. Random patterns, continuous veining and bookmatching can also be achieved here. It takes two hours from start to finish to produce a porcelain slab, and the end product is 25-30% harder than granite, when measured on the Mohs scale. Full size panels including StonePeak’s Plane 2.0 line, are shipped on A-frames, 25 to a side. The line has been operational since May.

Dignitaries praising the investment in the Crossville, Tenn., local economy included Angela Regitko, business development consultant for the State of Tennessee, Crossville Mayor James Mayberry, and newly elected County Mayor Alan Foster. Foster noted that StonePeak has made a $200 million investment in machinery and its facility since it opened in 2005, and has provided jobs for 400 workers in Crossville. 

Distributors weigh in on GPTP U.S. production

At the post-tour party on the rooftop bar of the Thompson Nashville are (l to r) StonePeak Ceramic’s Todd Ware, exec vp of national accounts;Leonardo Pesce, vp of operations; and Iris’s Marco Portiglia, sales & marketing director.

“StonePeak is taking a step ahead of their competitors by being the first to produce the large panels in the U.S.,” said Bill Spina, president of Standard Tile Supply Co., Totowa, N.J. “I feel it is a natural to be used as counter tops. In our area, it is becoming more accepted for commercial projects and it should substantially help in residential applications now that they can cut to smaller sizes.”

Tom Cosky, Nautilus & Aquatica Program manager for IWT, called StonePeak’s new domestic product with the Continua line a “game changer as far as pricing of large unit panels. They are passing along significant cost savings making it a much more competitive product.”

Mediterranea’s Michael (l) and Don Mariutto at the StonePeak afterparty atop the Thompson Nashville.

Cosky sees installation as a continuing hurdle. “The larger challenge still remains with the training of qualified installers, but that’s another thing StonePeak seems very aggressively tackling on their own,” he said. “My end of the equation – distribution – requires a different set of logistical issues than the traditional tile distributor must face to get in the game. We are encountering more and more inquiries for these panels and we see a real future for it as long as we can adapt to handle the opportunity.”

“StonePeak’s new gauged porcelain tile equipment at their Tennessee manufacturing plant will be a game changer for the U.S. tile industry,” said Brian Atkinson, president of The Masonry Center, Inc., in Boise, Idaho. “Production of StonePeak’s large-sized porcelain tile is now closer to their wholesalers, which will shorten transportation time and help us to better serve our customers.”
After expressing thanks to employees and state and local support, Minozzi revealed that the decision to hold the ceremony on September 12, a day after the 17th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in the U.S., was intentional, as a way to both honor the significance of the day and to celebrate the resilient, renaissance spirit of the USA to rebuild after that tragedy. “I love America,” she said. 

In the evening, guests and hosts gathered for a soiree at LA Jackson, the rooftop bar of the new Thompson Nashville.

Mock-ups eliminate miscommunication and reduce install failure risk

Mock-ups are great tools for managing customers’ expectations, which in turn can reduce risk and lead to successful installation. Today, we’ll define what a mock-up is, and explain the many advantages of using them. 

Mock-up module.

A mock-up can be either a partial or full-size structural model using exact construction materials, specifications and techniques. They allow all those involved to evaluate an actual three-dimensional representation of a project. They also allow us to experience at full scale what could only be hinted at with drawings or small architectural models. Mock-ups allow us to access the functionality, aesthetic and quality of the actual products down to the smallest details. If the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is true, a mock-up must be worth a considerable amount more. 

Oftentimes, mock-ups are required in commercial projects. It may seem that the additional expense associated with doing a mock-up is unnecessary but, in the end, it allows the team to foresee problems and solve them before they develop on a larger scale.

Jobsite conditions, shade variation and grout joints

Mock-ups get you involved early and allow you to access jobsite conditions such as: does the site have power, water, correct temperature, and lighting? It gives us the opportunity to establish the needs for a successful installation. With tiles transitioning to larger and larger sizes, mock-ups help installers set a standard for how flat surfaces must be to install tile. If we run into a problem with poorly-done concrete or framing, we can explain our needs for flat surfaces before they pour the next series of slabs, or frame the next group of rooms. 

Mock-ups help installers set a standard for how flat surfaces must be to install tile.

It seems we are continually pushed by faster and more demanding schedules to complete projects. Timing the installation of a mock-up can be extremely beneficial in determining the amount of total time a project will take, as well as the amount of manpower necessary to reach a desired deadline.

Many of us have probably had issues with showroom samples not actually matching the delivered material, especially with stone. Sometimes, a stone sample could have been quarried months or possibly years before the actual stone is selected and ordered. A mock-up shows you the actual current material appearance. Also, when some tiles have highly varied shading, it’s difficult to appreciate the overall look apart from an on-site mock-up with the actual material. Our industry has Aesthetic Classifications for shade variations that range from V0 to V4. The V0 are the most uniform in shade, while the V3 and V4 are the most varied. When using the more highly varied tiles it takes a larger area of tile to truly appreciate the overall appearance.

Shade variation courtesy of Architectural Ceramics.

The last few years, the trend has been for smaller and smaller grout joints. It seems everyone loves tile but hates grout. Mock-ups can set an agreed-upon grout joint size. Our industry addresses minimum grout joint size. It states that we should never have a grout joint less than 1/16˝. It also explains that a grout joint should not be any smaller than three times the facial variation of the tile itself. Normally with a calibrated tile that would be around 3/16˝, and with rectified tile it would be 1/8˝. Most of our customers have difficulty visualizing what a 3/16˝ grout joint looks like. A mock-up eliminates that problem and allows the customer to better communicate their desires.

Outsmarting lippage before it happens

Plank and other rectangular shape tiles have grown dramatically in popularity. When tiles are manufactured, they are fired in a kiln. This process can warp the tile or make them bow. When plank or rectangular shape tile are set in an offset or brick pattern, the warpage in those tiles can create lippage in an installation. Lippage is basically when two tiles don’t meet on the same plane. Our industry has addressed this situation and says we should have no more than a 33% offset with tiles over 18˝ in length. It goes on to say if a stagger of more than 33% is called for, a mock-up should be done and approved.

One of the many benefits of being a member of the NTCA is technical support. One of the most prevalent calls we receive is about wash wall lighting. The design community has embraced this lighting that is located in the ceiling close to the wall and casts light down the wall and creates an undesirable shadowing effect. The lighting reveals inconsistencies in the wall, tile, and the work. In a large commercial project where this type of lighting is used, a mock-up can be a great asset. Finding out early the effects that light will have on the installation can save a lot of headaches and money. Moving the lights out from the wall can make a huge difference. Discovering this information early from a mock-up makes the process quicker, easier, and cheaper.

Setting expectations with your mock-ups

One thing to consider when doing your mock-up is to be mindful of who you are selecting for that installation and to create the mock-up. If you have a large crew with several installers, there is a tendency to pick your best people to do your mock-up. Remember, this is an example of what the owner will expect throughout the project. Inevitably, we have different employees that work at different speeds with different skill sets. It would be best to pick someone of average skill and speed for your group. This will give a more realistic expectation of what you can deliver. It’s said that it’s better to undersell and over deliver, than oversell and under deliver.

Once the mock-up is complete, communicate potential problems, and get a formal acceptance of the installation for the standard on the remainder of the project.

In conclusion, I hope you understand how mock-ups can:

Allow you to evaluate environmental conditions on the jobsite

  • Access substrate flatness
  • Define roles and responsibilities of each trade
  • Give a good indication of the time it will take to complete a project
  • Allow for evaluation of actual tile and grout color and shading
  • Set an agreed upon tile pattern and grout joint size
  • Help eliminate issues with critical lighting
  • Manage customers’ expectations and reduce risk.

Ideal underlayment and tile setting strategies


Every month, NTCA offers free online webinars on a range of topics. Industry experts share their wisdom during these one-hour events that can be watched on a computer, phone, tablet or in a conference room with staff and crew. If you miss a webinar, NTCA archives them for watching at your convenience. Visit www.tile-assn.com and click the Education & Certification tab for news on upcoming talks and archived presentations. 

This month, we revisit the March 20, 2018 webinar entitled “Ideal Underlayments and Tile Setting Strategies,” presented by Tom Plaskota, technical support manager for TEC/H.B. Fuller Construction Products – and provide an overview. For the complete webinar, follow the directions above. 

Plaskota addressed several main topics in his talk. For this article, we will focus on the first two topics: 

  • What are self-leveling underlayments and how do they work?
  • Benefits of self leveling underlayments.

What are self-leveling underlayments and how do they work?

ASTM F2873 provides a definition of self-leveling underlayments (SLUs) that hinges on four key concepts:

  • They are poured and flowable mortars
  • They are composed primarily of hydraulic cements such as Portland cement materials and calcium aluminate. These compounds continue to harden under water.
  • They may require a primer to enhance bond strength and reduce development of pin holes.
  • They are designed and intended to provide a flat, smooth surface for the finished floor covering – ceramic tile or natural stone. 

Self-leveling underlayments achieve their high-flow properties through the use of flow agents that produce a pancake-batter-like consistency. They are also formulated to be non-shrinking and non-cracking. Unlike a thin-set mortar, SLUs are commonly set in thicknesses of up to 1/2” to 2”and are formulated to not shrink or crack at that thickness. Components like calcium aluminate allow the SLU to cure quickly, so that in many cases, the underlayment will support foot traffic and allow for tile setting in a matter of hours. 

Benefits of self-leveling underlayments

Plaskota approached the subject of SLU benefits by addressing common questions and objections about self-levelers – and the reality of the benefits they bring.

Self levelers aren’t necessary for tile installations

Reality: You need self-levelers for successful tile installations to ensure that the substrate is flat. They help expedite tile installations and save installers from having to make subfloor adjustments, while improving subfloor quality that reduces lippage and cracked or damaged tile. In addition, SLUs help you more easily and quickly achieve the tighter flatness requirements for today’s popular large-format tile, with in-demand tight grout joints: 1/4” in 10’ and 1/16” in 12” for tiles with all edges shorter than 15” and 1/8” in 10’ and 1/16” in 24’ for tiles with at least one edge measuring 15”. Gauged porcelain tile panels that measure as large as 3’ x 10’ or even 5’ x 10’ are not forgiving when it comes to subfloor flatness and so require the use of SLUs. 

I only need SLU for resilient/sheet vinyl – imperfections in substrate aren’t as ‘visible’ with tile.

Reality: The use of bonding mortar to level, flatten or fill substrates does not conform to tile industry standards. Some tile setters mistakenly believe they can “fill” substrates with thin-set or “medium-bed” (now known as large-and-heavy-tile-mortar) mortar. But these products were not made for leveling substrate. Instead, they are designed to accommodate the features of the tile, such as preventing a large, heavy tile from slumping into the mortar. They also address allowable warpage, which is greater in a larger tile, so there’s a need for a bit thicker mortar under the tile to accommodate the irregularity in the tile. Even setting small tiles on an uneven substrate can result in hazardous and unsightly lippage and callbacks. 

Self-leveling runs up extra charges. 

Reality: NOT installing a self leveling underlayment may result in costly call backs. You are going to have to smooth or level your floors. SLU is a great, efficient way of doing that to reduce callbacks. 

Self-levelers are time-consuming to apply; slows down the whole project schedule 

Reality: Efficiencies in installation methods and fast-setting underlayments allow for same-day tile installations. These are not your grandfather’s SLUs – they’ve come a long way and feature enhancements, and advanced technology primers that may eliminate the need for shot blasting over clean concrete, regardless of porosity. They may even go over some types of coatings such as curing compounds, high-performance topical coating like epoxies or cutback residue. In this case, the primer/SLU combo is a great time and money saver. Be sure to consult the SLU manufacturer and confirm the application. In addition, tools and equipment such as rakes, buckets or bucket carts that can be managed by one person can help expedite SLU application. 

Again for details of this talk, click the webinar link under the Education & Certification tab on tile-assn.com. This link also announces upcoming webinars and houses the archives of talks from the last few years.

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